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Friday, January 27, 2006

Competitive Spirit in Playing Chess

Chess is a sport, and with all sports, there is an inherent element of sportsmanship which involves a mutual understanding between gentlemen (and women) competitors, that this is really just a game, and only a game, nothing more, but still, a serious event of competitive nature. Etiquette and protocols are understood, and civil acts of decency, honor, respect and dignity are part of the game. Yet, when possibilities of even a slim chance of salvaging something better than a total loss still exists, all bets are off, especially when money or pride are involved.

I recall one tournament during my tenure in Bell-Labs (where I was employed at the time), I found myself in a lost position against a FIDE Master (2350+ rating), and was prepared to resign, wanting to extend my hand, but my opponent seemed more preoccupied with socializing with the other players, and wandering about on the floor. I saw him laughing and even pointing to our table, and then suffering the humility of spectators coming over, and hearing their giggles and laughter after observing my board position.

Even my few friends came over to observe, and discretely reminded me of the option of resigning. My King was trapped on its only square, all my pawns were locked in place, and the only two pieces that I could move were my Knight and my Queen, both under attack. He was in place to win some significant prize money too, a few hundred dollars with this win, and a humiliating crush for me.

Then, suddenly, it occurred to me, I first sacrificed my Knight by delivering a check on a square directly in front of one of his Rooks. My opponent laughed as he took the unprotected Knight, thinking that it was a just spite check in the act of resignation, and even offered his hand beneath his arrogant laughter, but I stood serious, and refused to accept the loss. I noted the move on my score sheet, hit the clock, and then sacrificed my Queen, by capturing the pawn in front of his castled King, (at that point, I heard him gag, with an audible, "WHAT??!!), forcing him to recapture my Queen, and then, it was STALEMATE as I had no legal move left to make, forcing my arrogant opponent to accept a draw, splitting the point, and forcing him to lose out on any prize money! He was so upset, that he slammed his fist down on the table so hard that the pieces flew off the board, and even offered me half the money (splitting the prize money) if I were to agree to take back the move, and resign, but I refused. It wasn't about the money. Besides, his behavior had now drawn a crowd of wandering spectators, curious about the commotion. It's part of the game, and most Chess Masters are aware of these things.

In a similar spirit, I had just made a blunder in a move in a local chess club event that cost me a Rook; and found myself in a lost position, facing a lower rated opponent I had never played before, I pressed on. All the pawns eventually were exchanged, and he was unfamiliar with the King and Rook v. King Endgame, and managed to salvage another stalemate. Once I know that an opponent is able to deliver a checkmate with a King and Rook, I will resign the lost position.

In another similar game, with a stronger player, I sacrificed my last two pieces for my opponent's remaining two connected pawns, and he had to agree to a draw for not being able to deliver a checkmate with just a Bishop and a Knight against my King. I've also observed a few games, (one against a Grandmaster, in a simul), where an average chess player got into a lost position, and was able to sacrifice his last remaining pieces for the pawns in front of his opponent's King, and get a perpetual check with his Queen, again, salvaging a lost game for a draw.

An amusing illustration of competitive spirit in chess, and unusual wins, comes from a Bobby Fischer position (not really sure if he actually got into this position, but it's worthy of consideration for the serious player).

Key Position is:

Black to move, and win! Can you find the winning move?

White just advanced his pawn to h7 and is prepared to promote with h8=Queen delivering a check on the move. Certainly, if Black were to capture the Bishop with d2xc1=Q, White would just recapture, and win the endgame. If Black moves his King, White just captures Black's only passed pawn. If Black promoted his advanced pawn on d2 to d1=Q, it's just a matter of technique before White forces the exchange of Queens, after the promotion of the "h" pawn, (=Q+), and marches the "a" and "b" pawns to victory. But Black has a surprising move!

Sometimes, pawn promotions to a Queen, is not best, and this position allows for an "under promotion" d2-d1=Knight, which delivers checkmate on the move!

Similar positions haunt chess club anecdotes where a Queen promotion delivers stalemate, while under promotion to Rook, or Knight, or Bishop would have eventually brought home the full point.

Another amusing position, is where some players resign, overlooking a winning combination; again, various chess books and periodicals cite many examples of this. Here is one from my games list, where I was White:

Position with Black to move, White had just captured NxN

Black moves Bc6, and White is facing the loss of a Queen (attacked by both the Rook on d8, and the Bishop on c6), and mate on g2.

It looks pretty bad for White, but 1. Nxf7+ saves the day! If Black plays 1. ...RxN, hen 2. 2. QxR forces mate, but it gets better! After Black moves 1. ...Kg8, White delivers the coupe-de grace in a Morphy Mate, with 2. Nh6++ Kh8, 3.Qg8+ RxQg8,4. Nf7#

Author winkensmile ;)


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